While Rome has hundreds of churches, forums, basilicas, paintings and other attractions, there is only one that Italians truly regard as a national treasure, beloved monument and official symbol for various stores, companies and even sports teams. The Colosseum, or Il Colosseo, was known as the “place of all death” when it was built in A.D. 70-80 because of the public executions and deadly gladiator matches that occurred there.
It was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, or Amphitheatrum Flavium. It did not receive the name “Colosseum” until Emperor Hadrian took down the Base of Colossus, a colossal gilded bronze statue of Emperor Nero posing as the Roman god of the sun Sol. Historians say the statue was approximately 30 to 34 meters tall. The statue was taken down simply because it was made of bronze, which was in high demand at the time to make weapons.
To get a sense of what the infamous gladiator matches were like, many experts (including our very own professor) agree that the movie “Gladiator” (2000) had a very accurate representation of the Colosseum scenes. For example, the seating arrangements of the amphitheater: The first level was reserved for the emperor and senators only, the third for knights, and the top levels for peasants and regular folk who had to stand for the duration of the events since there were no seating in their section. Another good representation is when Maximus (played by actor Russell Crowe) is fighting in a match and the ground just opens up in the arena and several tigers come out of the ground.
Although some have criticized the ancient Romans for so much death, it was actually part of their culture. In essence, it is quite similar to watching an NBA game. Although no one is killed in a basketball match, it is quite similar in regards to the social aspect of the game.
In fact, in Roman times, to let a trained gladiator die in public was a sign of generosity by the emperor or whoever was hosting the event. And to prove to citizens that the emperor was truly generous, he would check to see if the gladiator was, in fact, dead, by poking their body with a hot iron. In other words, there was no faking death in the arena!